R K Narayan dead: Sun sets over Malgudi
Novelist R K Narayan criticalThe Grand Old Man of Malgudi is no more. Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Aiyar Narayanaswamy, master story-teller, writer of lucid English, philosopher and essayist passed into the great beyond... he was 95 years old.
Very few fictional places have so branded themselves on the memories and hearts of delighted readers, as has Malgudi. R K Narayan created the local ambience and characters so well that a first time reader would be forgiven for assuming that he was reading a biographical sketch.
Swami and Friends (debut novel of 1935), Bachelor of Arts, Mr Sampath, The Financial Expert, Malgudi Days, A Tiger For Malgudi, The Man-Eater of Malgudi, The Vendor of Sweets, The Painter of Signs and so many more.
Graham Greene and NarayanHe also wrote The Ramayana - a shortened modern prose version and The Mahabharata: a modern shortened prose version. His autobiography My Days (1974) speaks of how he began as a journalist and about his famous younger brother R K Laxman who was charged with rushing his elder brother' s 'copy' to the mail train. However, the narrative touches a different emotional note completely when it comes to the death of his wife in 1937, an event that affected Narayan deeply.
His friendship with Graham Greene (who was instrumental in getting him published in Britain) is a much remarked upon aspect of his life. Greene said that he found Malgudi 'more familiar than Battersea or the Euston Road.'
Born in Madras (Chennai) on October 10, 1906, Narayan went to the Maharaja' s College in Mysore. Though he moved to Chennai in the later years, Mysore was where he lived and worked for the greater part and which had a tremendous influence on him and therefore on what he wrote.
Everything about Narayan was gentle. His humour, his characters (even their villainy was not the kind to draw your hatred), the entire atmosphere that pervaded his stories and most of all, his fame. He became internationally known at a time when there were few Indians writing in English and being published by the big names. And yet, one cannot remember much hype and hoopla about his friendship with another great like Graham Greene or his immense popularity. His wonderful craftsmanship ensured that even when he wrote about the most ' Indian' aspects, it did not sound or feel stilted and contrived in English.
Happily for us, Narayan was recognised and sung during his lifetime. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi in 1958 for The Guide,(made into a Hindi movie and which did not meet with his approval), in '64 the Padma Bhushan for distinguished service to literature. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and also of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Mysore University conferred a honorary doctorate on him and apart from being nominated to the Rajya Sabha, he was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the country's second highest civilian award. Few Indian writers of English can boast of so much popularity, respect and regard.
Like P G Wodehouse, Narayan too was sometimes accused of not portraying the Indian reality of poverty and squalor. But then those who do so miss the point completely. When Greene condoled Narayan on his wife' s death, he observed, " I don' t suppose you will write for a long time but eventually you will...not because you are just a good writer (there are hundreds) but because you are one of the finest."